Archive for January, 2011

‘The Mechanic’ fixates on violence, tough-guy dialogue

Saturday, January 29th, 2011
Ben Foster and Jason Statham from "The Mechanic" Steve (Ben Foster), left, and Arthur (Jason Statham) prepare to blast their way out of trouble in “The Mechanic.”

If you took “The Mechanic” — an action-packed but superficial thriller — and combined it with George Clooney’s “The American” — a stylistically nuanced, but boring drama — you might get a near-perfect movie about a professional assassin philosophizing about his lonely life while engaging in ultraviolent, bloody battles in every other scene.

Simon West’s “The Mechanic,” a remake of a popular 1972 Charles Bronson crime drama, sputters along on the raw power of those graphically realistic action scenes and a plethora of howler tough-guy dialogue.

The best example: “I’ve put such a big price on your head,” Tony Goldwyn’s chief bad guy says, “that when you look into a mirror, your reflection is going to want to shoot you in the face!”

“The Mechanic” refers to Arthur, a highly efficient hit man played by “Transporter” star Jason Statham.

He starts off the movie by drowning a well-guarded drug lord in his own swimming pool right under the guns of his guards. (By starting this way, the film conveniently skips over how Arthur circumvented the heavy security at the drug lord’s compound.)

In a few quick scenes, we see that Arthur works for an international assassination group headed by the slithery Dean (Goldwyn), and that Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland) has been Arthur’s old friend and mentor.

One day, Arthur receives a shocking new assignment.

Yep. Harry. (Read more…)

Daily Herald’s Gire joins Ebert’s ‘At the Movies’

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011
Roger Ebert, Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky from "Ebert Presents At the Movies" Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire will be a contributing critic and correspondent on the new nationally syndicated TV show, “Ebert Presents At the Movies,” hosted by Associated Press’ Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of Mubi.com. It airs at 8:30 p.m. Fridays on WTTW.

Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire will be moonlighting on “Ebert Presents At the Movies,” Roger Ebert’s new nationally syndicated movie and current events show that airs locally at 8:30 p.m. Fridays on WTTW.

Gire was selected to be a contributing critic and correspondent. The first show aired Friday, though Gire’s first appearance has not yet been scheduled.

“I had to pinch myself when I got an e-mail from executive producer Chaz Ebert, asking me if I’d like to join the staff,” Gire said. “‘Ebert Presents’ is the ‘Maltese Falcon’ of TV shows. I know it’s going to be a lot of work, but I suspect it’ll also be a lot of fun.”

The show will be a new approach to Ebert’s popular, long-running movie review shows, which began 25 years ago as “Siskel & Ebert” and later was “Ebert & Roeper.”

“At the Movies” has nine supporting cast members, including Gire, and besides movie reviews will feature segments on current events and classic movies.

Other contributors include the “Today” show’s Alison Bailes, CBS News Analyst Jeff Greenfield and Nell Minow, the “Movie Mom” from beliefnet.com. (Read more…)

‘Way Back’ is not-so great escape drama

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011
Ed Harris in "The Way Back" Ed Harris, left, leads a cast of refugees escaping from a Siberian gulag in 1940 in Peter Weir’s “The Way Back.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to think that if you’ve seen one torturously dangerous escape-from-a-Siberian-gulag movie, you’ve kinda seen them all.

“The Way Back” comes from internationally celebrated Australian filmmaker Peter Weir, who directed such notable movies as “Witness,” “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” “The Last Wave,” “The Truman Show” and “The Dead Poets Society.”

Here, Weir directs a meticulously detailed epic escape adventure stuffed with everything but the one element his movie really needs: characters we can empathize with.

The normally charismatic Ed Harris and normally edgy Colin Farrell breathe a little life into their one-dimensional characters, but they’re stuck leading a nondescript group of escapees so generic and banal that it’s tough to worry about them being shot by Russians or dying of hunger in the wilderness or being fried alive in the desert.

“The Way Back” is “inspired by” a book by Slavomir Rawicz, “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom,” plus other alleged true stories researched by Weir and co-writer Keith Clarke.

Shot in Bulgaria, Morocco and India, Weir’s drama takes place in 1940 during Stalin’s Reign of Terror in Poland.

A young woman, clearly against her will, accuses her husband Janusz (Jim Sturgess), a Polish army officer, of spying and crimes against the state. (Read more…)

‘Barney’s Version’ is erosion of a man

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011
Paul Giamatti and Dustin Hoffman in "Barney's Version" Barney (Golden Globe winner Paul Giamatti) gets a life lesson from Dad (Dustin Hoffman) in “Barney’s Version.”

The moderately engaging “Barney’s Version” works almost like an old-fashioned temperance movie warning against the evils of sinful drink. Not only does the boozer main character, a successful TV producer named Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti in excellent form) lose his marriage and friends because of alcoholic hazes, he comes down with early Alzheimers’ symptoms suggesting the wrath of God at work for his overindulgence.

Giamatti’s selfish main character doesn’t binge-drink or become rip-roaring drunk. It’s more subtle. Barney makes key decisions while under 70-proof influences, and they ultimately erode the stability of his relationships.

“Barney’s Version” opens with the title character in middle age. Through a series of flashbacks, Barney goes through three wives.

First, the free-spirited Clara (Rachelle Lefevre) who commits suicide in Rome. Second, the Jewish princess “Second Mrs. P” (Minnie Driver) who can’t shut up.

Third, the beautiful Miriam (Rosamund Pike), whom Barney hits on only minutes after taking his vows with the Second Mrs. P, telegraphing the early demise of marriage No. 2.

The story gains a little bit of mystery when a cop (Mark Addy) is sure that Barney shot and killed his best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman), but can’t prove it. Barney was in an alcoholic fog and can’t remember when Boogie mysteriously vanished off the edge of a boat dock. (Read more…)

‘Company Men’ works hard at telling story of job loss

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011
Tommy Lee Jones and Ben Affleck in "Company Men" Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones), left, and Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) contemplate their futures after being laid off.

I came out of John Wells’ drama “The Company Men” not particularly bowled over by its conventional, made-for-TV visuals and its finger-pointing at how selfish and greedy America’s top CEOs can be.

But “The Company Men” did impress me with its optimistic view of the world, and belief in the American worker’s ability not only to survive calamity, but to adapt and rebound for new sets of challenges in the market.

More than that, “The Company Men” tells a cautionary tale of people placing importance on all the wrong things in life, mainly, things. Stuff like possessions, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, houses, cars, club memberships, exotic vacations and expensive lunches.

It quietly illustrates — through the experiences of three corporate men fired from their lucrative jobs — the virtues of community, sacrifice and compassion.

So, I decided that in “The Company Men,” Wells has actually created an engaging Sunday morning sermon with moving pictures and an even more moving story.

Later, I found out that the producer/writer of “The West Wing,” “Shameless” and “E.R.” grew up the son of an Episcopal minister, and that cemented my assessment of his movie.

“The Company Men” takes us through the financial fire and economic brimstone of 2008 through the lives of three corporate employees of an international manufacturing conglomerate, GTX. (Read more…)

Comedy, drama clash in Chicago-made ‘Dilemma’

Friday, January 14th, 2011
Vince Vaughn and Kevin James in "The Dilemma" Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn), right, and pal Nick Brannen (Kevin James) celebrate their Hawkishness in Ron Howard’s comedy “The Dilemma.”

Ron Howard’s “The Dilemma” is a Chicagoan’s movie.

It was shot in the Windy City. It shows lots of Chicago locations.

It stars Chicago actor Vince Vaughn, who grew up in Buffalo Grove and Lake Forest. It features Chicago sports teams.

It even shows a brief glimpse of an Oberweiss milk bottle. Late in the story, Vaughn incorporates the Oberweiss slogan into a line of dialogue: “Simply the best!”

Regrettably, “The Dilemma” is not simply the best.

It is simply a confusing, erratic “dramedy” that preaches the importance of honesty, even though none of the main characters actually practices it.

“The Dilemma” is also a victim of a bait-and-switch marketing strategy.

Universal Pictures’ trailers and commercials portray the movie as a wacky comedy about a man who sees his best buddy’s wife smooching another man at the Chicago Botanic Garden, then becomes wracked with uncertainty about how to handle it.

“The Dilemma” certainly begins as a wacky bromantic comedy, but takes a bumpy detour into much darker territory as the characters shed their humorous veneers and put their true nastier natures on display. (Read more…)

‘Green Hornet’ remake a real crime

Friday, January 14th, 2011
Jay Chou and Seth Rogen in "The Green Hornet" Kato (Jay Chou) and Britt Reed (Seth Rogen) spring into action to combat villainy in “The Green Hornet.”

On paper, “The Green Hornet” probably looked like an inspired concept.

Take the old Green Hornet premise — a smart and rich white newspaper publisher named Britt Reed goes masked vigilante with help from his Asian manservant Kato — and give it a contemporary, comic twist.

So, the publisher is now a bumbling, immature party animal (played by Seth Rogen, no less) who inherits his father’s empire and newspaper, the Sentinel, but doesn’t know what to do with it.

Kato, meanwhile, is no manservant. He’s a mechanical and engineering genius, martial arts warrior, piano-prodigy, weapons expert and coffee-making artiste.

Together, they decide to protect the citizens of L.A. by becoming good guys pretending to be bad guys who fight crime without badges.

Sounds irresistible, right?

Yet, director Michel Gondry finds all sorts of ways to make it extremely resistible.

His 3-D action movie never finds its proper comic tone, a balance between superhero camp and self-aware humor.

Worse, this film turns the popular radio/TV super vigilante into a noisy, thoughtless, lazy frat boy comedy with Rogen channeling a rom-com-grade Will Ferrell.

Taiwanese singer/actor Jay Chou’s charisma-challenged Kato doesn’t do any heavy lifting in the martial arts scenes. They’ve been shot with “Matrix” bullet-time effects, visually grabbing digital manipulations that could make the late Leslie Nielsen look like a kung fu master. (Read more…)

‘Blue Valentine’ is painfully truthful

Friday, January 7th, 2011
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine" An ambitionless man (Ryan Gosling) romances an ambitious woman (Michelle Williams) with unhappy results in “Blue Valentine.”

Director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance says the aptly titled “Blue Valentine” is all about the death of love, and that pretty much describes the essence of this extraordinary chronicle of a relationship between two people destined for domestic disintegration.

This mature and insightful personal drama — shot in Super 16 mm. and RED digital formats — features two brave and uncompromised performances by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

They play Cindy and Dean, who open the story as married parents of a wonderful daughter. They appear to be an average family, but quickly we discover the quirks that differentiate them have grown from small, tolerable fissures into chasms of unhappiness, at least for Cindy.

Dean pressures Cindy to go with him to a romance (read: sex) hotel, in what clearly is a desperate attempt to reconnect with her. (Note to guys: Adult resort visits can’t fix troubled relationships. Ever.) This doesn’t go well at all.

The movie periodically cuts away to happier, earlier times when Dean had a full head of hair and no glasses, and Cindy was young and ready for everything.

As time passes, and the flashbacks slowly catch up to the present, Cindy, a nurse, has ambitions to grow professionally and personally, while Dean never matures. He doesn’t want a career. He slavishly devotes himself to Cindy and their daughter Frankie, and Cindy begins to chafe under the constant, intense attention of her husband. (Read more…)